Standing, holding uncertainty

As part of my weekly cherishing of myself, this past Sunday evening I registered for a live Zoom by Dolores Whelan and Mari Kennedy on the “Gifts and Wisdom of the Celtic Tradition for these uncertain times.” The Celtic religious traditions – both spiritually and socially – were quite different until Christianity went the way of Rome after the Synod of Whitby in 665 CE. Between the Celtic spiritual sensibility and the Brehon legal system based on reparative justice as opposed to punitive measures, life on the Celtic fringes was the light that blazed during the Dark Ages. Brehon law lingered in the Gaelic areas of Ireland up until the 17th century and was a liberal system that enshrined women’s rights when few existed elsewhere in European civilisation.

Nor did the Whitby Synod completely extinguish the underpinnings of Celtic spirituality and religious practice. The popularity of John O’ Donohue’s writings tapped into a hunger for that older wisdom creating something of a renaissance.

Ancient Celtic wisdom revers nature, contemplative silence, the giving of hospitality as a sacred duty, and the porous veil between our material world and ‘the other world.’ Dolores gave us an Irish proverb in translation- “Tir na nÓg is behind my house.” As Mari Kennedy discussed, the ancient Celtic world a millenia and more ago operated so that individuals were responsible for being in ‘right relationship’ with themselves, with the land, with their neighbours and with their god. Sovereignty was not just for the high king. It was, and still is, about living with integrity and maintaining that wholeness in all one’s dealings. That right relationship with all four is the cross surrounded by the circle of wholeness. Right relationship opens a way for there to be reparative justice rather than the punitive justice of our current systems.

The Celtic Cross – a symbolic unbroken wholeness as referenced in Whelan’s and Kennedy’s Celtic Wisdom webinar

The Celtic world was not afraid of darkness or death. The Cailleach is a terrible hag and rules winter. But she is also credited with being the Creatrix of our known world. The Celtic New Year – Samhain – or Halloween as it is known elsewhere – is at our darkest time of year. Out of that darkness the light is reborn at winter solstice.

I am reminded of the time I listened to our cat Zelda purr her litter of kittens into the world as she sat beside me. A few months earlier my husband sat with our cat Sophie as she purred her way out of this world. Birth and death both require labour; they are two sides of the same coin.

We are in that liminal space (there’s another point that Mari brought up in the webinar!) where we are witnessing the death of our old known world. The birth of the ‘new normal’ is not yet with us. We stand on our threshold with the door open. We are between the old model of our known world and the yet to be seen new model. We are needing to hold our uncertainty and stand with it – in our own integrity.

This was all very synchronous for me. The previous Friday I sat with my husband and a friend outdoors mulling over how I might devise a course that would speak to the the long days of December. With indoor visitations disappearing across the map as areas lockdown because of localised Covid19 spikes, I wondered how the Covid19 Christmas would look in 2020. I had already emailed siblings in the States asking that we don’t do the present parcel routine this year. I really do not want my siblings – all over 69 years of age – queuing for a long time in a post office, potentially exposing themselves to pathogens.

On Saturday, a discussion with some students who stayed in the Zoom room after class helped clarify what I can offer. And, credit where it is due – thanks to the late Mammy Rountree who helped construct the name for the course.

Which will be…21 Days Journey through the Dark Days of December. I will be writing more about this next week. For now, just know that my hope is that there can be a community of souls helping each other hold the uncertainty as they wait upon the return of the light.

If you want to learn more about the wisdom of Celtic spirituality I refer you to Dolores Whelan’s website ( and Mari Kennedy’s Celtic Wheel year long course starting soon. (


Whether it is the weather, or post-menopausal insomnia, or whatever, my mind is still awake long after I am usually asleep. I am not going to try and second guess my body and will just roll with the energy and do my poetry practice in the early hours of the new day. It still counts. Write a poem a day within the twenty-four hour clock of the time zone I am living in. Partially, I think my wakefulness is due to a telephone conversation last evening after supper with a dear friend, which was a rather deep analysis of how institutions fail and how humans are too frail to live with uncertainty. So they do stuff – often ill considered things, too – to fill the vacuum of their anxiety and insecurity. (Brexit. Building walls. Shopping compulsively. Self-medicating.) And then we turned to the the subject of the will of God – or, if that sort of language disconcerts you – the will of some higher consciousness that has a wider canvas than one’s own little ego. And how for religious people, keeping faith while waiting to discern the will of of this higher consciousness is a test of courage as much as it is of patience.

Which led me on to the 21st century phenomenum of FOMO, or fear of missing out, if you have not come across this in cyber space. We may think of it as unique to the digital age, when everything is terribly fast and instant messages flash across wireless connections. (Like magic, they even call it ethernet!) However, upon reflection, it probably has been with us much longer since patterns repeat in nature and human behaviour is also subject to patterns. It has just been rebranded, an adaptation overlaid onto that impulse or sense of urgency that drives one to say yes to everything to fill a vacuum. Most often of insecurity or an inability to just sit quietly with uncertainty.


It is with relief and some elation,
that sense of freedom to pass up events,
to allow them to go on without you.
There is no need for rush or panic -
a polite 'No, thank you' to any or all
invitations is sufficient for
remedying social anxiety
of one sort - the terror of missing out.

Nothing is ever so important.
You can check your ego with your coat and hat,
never going back to show your claim check.
Stillness is a thrill. How else can you hear
the throb of your own pulse or heartbeat?
It will do without the juddering skips
when gripped by fear. And then, somehow, the world
grows larger for saying 'No.' It sounds odd,
I know, but I swear it is so. Lighter.
Freer. Or maybe the way towards joy.
Being able to slide into the sleek,
silky garment of one's own skin and know
that this is enough. It fits. Nothing missing.

Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.

Featured image is Photo by Pablo Guerrero on Unsplash